What's the difference between a drain and a sewer?
A drain is a pipe or channel which takes foul sewage, ‘grey water’ and – in some cases – surface water away from a single building or set of buildings that form a property, for example your house and garage. Drains feed into sewers.
A sewer is a shared pipe or channel which takes sewage and water away from more than one property.
Who is responsible for drains and sewers?
If you own a house – detached, semi-detached or terraced – you’re responsible for the maintenance and repair of drains within the boundaries of your property, except where a drain is a lateral drain which means that other properties drain through it. Lateral drains are the responsibility of your water and sewerage company, even where they are within the boundary of your property. Until October 2011, lateral drains were generally the joint responsibility of the homes they served.
In the case of flats, the freeholder or management company is responsible for the whole building’s drains.
Common drainage problems and how to avoid them
One of the most common reasons why drains become blocked are: fat, oil or leftover food is washed down the sink and goes solid as it cools. This is often a problem at Christmas when people pour away fat from roasting their turkey or goose. This is, of course, the worst time of year to deal with blocked drain problems as it’s cold outside and contractors may be less available. Make sure you place all leftover food, including fat and oil, in your food recycling bin instead. You can always pour excess fat into a dish while it cools, which makes it easier to scrape into your bin later.
Other common reasons why drains block is that baby wipes (including those described as ‘flushable’ and feminine hygiene items are flushed down the toilet. Even if these don’t block the drains on your property they can cause huge problems in public sewers as they mass together into ‘fat bergs’. These can often only be removed by digging up a road which causes significant disruption. Place these items in your general bin instead.
Tree roots can also damage your drains by growing through gaps if drain pipes were not correctly fitted together, or by getting through cracks in fractured drains. Often they will have sensed a small leak as a source of moisture and nutrients which will make them grow more vigorously towards your drain. Drains that have been badly damaged by tree roots generally need to be replaced but it’s also possible to have a liner inserted which will restore their integrity. If you’ve cleared tree roots from a drain once, it’s worth continuing to check your drains regularly to ensure that they have not grown back, or to catch the problem before it causes a full-scale blockage in future.
Who to contact if you have a blocked drain
Start by asking your neighbours if they’re having any problems, if they’re not, it’s most likely that the problem is with the drains for which you’re responsible. In this case there are numerous specialist contractors who can help.
HomeProtect buildings insurance includes cover for clearing blocked drains where the pipe or drain itself has been physically broken. Our basic home emergency cover can help with emergency repairs to address failure or damage to underground drains for which you’re legally responsible, subject to certain limits and exclusions – check the terms of our policy booklet for details.
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